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Mazda gave the motoring press a sneak peek at the all-new BT-50 ‘Active Lifestyle Vehicle’ this week, in what is to be a global unveiling at the Australian International Motor Show.

It’s worth noting, that this is the only new generation BT-50 example currently in existence, and the reason why we were give strict instructions not to touch, and were required to hand in all mobile phones and cameras on entry to the venue.

It’s not very often that Australia has the privilege of hosting a global unveiling of a brand new car model, but then, this is a critically important market for the Mazda.

The world’s largest island also represents the largest market share in the world for Mazda, larger than the US and Europe, in fact.

Mazda Australia is on target to sell around 85,000 vehicles this year, which would mean a market share of approximately 8.3 percent on current forecast.

To put that into perspective, Mazda in the US holds around a 3 percent share, while in the UK that rises to 5-6 percent of the market and in Japan, they have a 4-5 percent share.

In September 2010, Mazda Australia held the top sales spot across three separate automotive categories, with Mazda 2, Mazda 3, and Mazda 6, respectively.

Despite their overall sales success in this country, the Managing Director of Mazda, Doug Dickson, is the first to admit that they have not performed well enough in the utility segment, but all that is about to change.

You know it’s a big deal when the PR boss introduces the Chief Designer of the BT-50, Ryo Yanagisawa, who told the audience of his passion for snow boarding and motocross, as well as his general ‘need for speed’ approach to life.

Interestingly, Ryo’s design was also influenced by Australia’s wide-open spaces after he spent time traveling to places such as the Great Ocean Road and the Northern Territory.

On first glance, it’s obvious the new generation BT-50 has been given a serious shot of Mazda’s ‘Zoom-Zoom’, as this design unequivocally raises the bar in the design department in this segment.

Production won’t commence until June 2011 in Thailand, and Mazda aren’t giving anything away as far as to when the first batch of BT-50s might hit our shores.

Other details are also scant at this time, but we do know that the BT-50 will get new drivetrains, and that the vehicle will be well specced, straight out of the box.

It’s likely that Mazda may offer their new SKY-G and SKY-D generation powertains, which will mean provide considerable power increases while reducing CO2 emissions.

Also likely to find it’s way into the BT-50, is Mazda’s next generation six-speed automatic transmission. It’s lighter and is said to provide significantly quicker shifts than current automatic boxes and you can bet on more ‘Zoom-Zoom’.

The design incorporates Mazda’s current five-point grille family face (it looks similar to Mazda 3), which certainly provides a more than contemporary front profile.

The rear end design also features some car-like design cues, especially in the rear tail light assembly, which looks to have been influenced by the Mazda 6.

It looks big, almost big enough to be called a truck in the US, I suspect. It’s clearly longer and wider than the current model, which probably means that its payload will have increased over the model it will replace.

This particular show vehicle, which was described Mr Dickson as a composite, was shod with 265/17-inch rubber while suspension was courtesy of leaf springs down the back and coil spring over dampers up front.

If the exterior design is a standout, and I believe it is, then the interior is nothing less than car-like – that’s Mazda, car-like.

The cockpit is driver focused and Mazda 6 style in execution and certainly a class above what buyers would expect of a vehicle in this segment.

Given that Mazda describe the BT-50 as “a brand new direction in the utility market” and a vehicle that can be used for both work and family transport, expect to find features such as SatNav and USB/iPod ports in production models.

Going forward, Mazda is focused on achieving a 30 percent improvement in fuel economy (over 2008 models) for all Mazda cars by 2015, as well as a reducing overall weight by over 100 kilograms for its petrol engine vehicles.